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City Parks of Grand Rapids, MI

Did you know Grand Rapids has 74 city parks to enjoy and all for free? Many parks have wonderful trails for walking or biking, and some with swimming pools (3) and splash pads (14). In the winter our parks provide ice skating, sledding, trails for XC skiing or fat tire biking and also one park with snow shoe rentals and trails. 

I have my favorites, some I’ve visited many times. My connections to two of them shows why I love city parks. 

1.The oldest park in our city is Veterans Park (101 E. Fulton), originally established as a public square in 1834, housing the first Kent County Courthouse. Don’t look for the Courthouse though because it burned down in 1844! At the turn of the century, after years of neglect the space was revitalized and became Fulton Street Park. In 1926 two large pillars were erected to honor local men and women who died in WWI. Later pillars were added memorializing veterans from WWII and the Korean War and the Viet Nam War. In 1956 the City Commission renamed the park Veterans Memorial Park.

I was quite familiar with this park as a child. When I went to visit my grandmother sometimes we would go to the park. She lived in an old apartment house on Ransom street, (since demolished) just one block from the park. In warmer weather our evening entertainment was to walk over to Veterans Park to watch the changing colored lights on the fountain. There wasn’t much else to do at that time, 1957 or so, but a visit to the park was more than enough for us.

2.Another park which brings memories from childhood is John Ball Park. I have a photo of the iconic statue of John Ball with my 3 sibs and I sitting on the lap of Mr. Ball, probably 1955. I have another photo of my 2 daughters sitting with Mr. John Ball when they were children, 1980’s, and lastly a more recent photo, 2019, of my grandchildren sitting on this statue. I believe this is a tradition for many families in Grand Rapids as people are often lined up next to the statue awaiting their turn for a photo-op.

The John Ball Park was a gift from John and Mary Ball, to the city in 1884. In 1891 a small zoo was created. Many other amenities were added over the years, duck ponds, greenhouses, and outdoor swimming pool and a pavilion where dances were sometimes held. The duck ponds and the red brick pavilion still stand. From 1897 to 1904, the park expanded to 140 acres and as we see now the zoo expanded as well. This park remains one of the most used parks in Grand Rapids. 

With such wonderful resources for outdoor adventure, I have decided to visit as many parks as possible over the next several months and write a blog about my discoveries. As you follow my blog, I hope you will be inspired to do some exploration of your own. Happy trails to you ! Dec 4, 2020

Elizabeth